Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Destination Freedom Kick Off: Ask an Activist!
This Sunday is our official Destination Freedom Kick Off, a free afternoon program featuring panel discussions, new exhibits and entertainment, along with a special talk by Civil Rights activist Diane Nash. In preparing for Sunday, we had the opportunity to ask several of the panelists questions surrounding the pivotal moments of the Civil Rights Movement, their own activism, and what they are looking forward to during the Destination Freedom Kick Off.
First up: Joshua Burford, Assistant Director for Sexual & Gender Diversity at UNC, Charlotte.
How does Sept. 15, 1963 relate to the causes you are most passionate about? What takeaways have you gained from the Civil Rights Movement?
I grew up in Alabama and early on learned about the impact of Civil Rights on my home state as well as the US. The killings at the 16th Street Baptist Church were and are a reminder of the innocent life that is lost when people who are blinded by hate, don't understand the ramifications of their actions.
I grew up learning about how people who believe in change can only make change by putting themselves in positions to challenge the dominate norms of our culture, and how many times [those dominate norms] can bring about harm to [the challengers] in so many ways.
As a teenager I saw the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 90’s and watching ACT UP activists put themselves and their bodies on the line really resonated with me. This same desire to put your physical self in danger and to make your body visible so that people who seek to silence you are forced to think of you as an actual person is what propelled me to become an activist.
I understand from the Civil Rights movement that a policy or an idea that denigrates some of us in fact denigrates all of us, and that all human beings are worthy of full civil rights in our country. I became a Queer activist because it’s important to advocate for those with no voice, and ultimately my own privilege allows me and in some cases forces me to be a voice for my community.
How do you recall your activism and any highlights of it?
My activism started out small and very quiet. I wanted to make changes and my youthful anger allowed me the brashness of throwing myself into causes with a fervor that I hope I still retain. I have worked with HIV/AIDS advocacy groups, I have worked for Trans* inclusion in our community, as a professor of Queer history I have worked to try and give a sense of our community back to young people, and I have worked to address needs as they arise.
I hope that my activism has become more nuanced as I have gotten older and have a deeper understanding of what intersectional justice looks like. I take pride in the fact that people think I am a radical and I want people to see that my desire to change the nature of our culture for Queer people means that I am willing to put myself on the line, to always be vigilant in the fight for equality, and to harness my anger to redress the creeping cultural heteronormativity that always seeks to undermine LGBTQ life. My activism is ongoing, growing, and never satisfied and that is why I keep doing it.
What are you looking forward to at the Destination Freedom Kick Off?
I think what I am looking the most forward to is the interaction with various other activists in the community. Since LGBTQ activism intersects with so many other types of identity, I am interested to see what other people's approaches to their activism is and how what we are doing is the same and different. This will be my first opportunity to converse with people in this type of setting.
Hear more from Joshua and others at Levine Museum, Sunday, September 15, beginning at 3pm.